Blaine Weber & Daily Journal of Commerce on Solving Seattle’s Condominium Conundrum
Blaine Weber of Weber Thompson Architects Outlines the Washington State Condominium Act and How Its Stifling New Multi-Family Homeownership Opportunities
As Blaine Weber, Senior Principal of Weber Thompson Architects, proclaims in a recent Daily Journal of Commerce article, “the affordable housing crisis is one of the more perplexing problems facing rapidly growing cities like Seattle.” One proposed solution is to add to the supply of small, affordable condominiums in the city, yet as a 2016 paper published by the University of Washington Runstad Center for Real Estate Studies notes, condominiums in Seattle are overwhelmingly “beyond the means of the average-income individual.” So, Weber asks, why is there a lack of supply amidst rising demand in the Emerald City? Though there are myriad reasons, a main one can be attributed to the liability associated with building multi-family units for sale in Washington state, given regulations outlined within the Washington State Condominium Development Act.
As Weber outlines, most new condominium projects are doomed to a lawsuit at about the four-year mark. “There are many reasons for this fourth-year phenomena,” he says. “The first is the way the state Condominium Act is structured; the second most salient being the aggressive behavior of some plaintiff attorneys who approach HOA board members at this four-year mark to convince them to initiate a construction claims lawsuit.”
Fear & Greed
With experience serving as an officer on the HOA board of three condominiums over the past decade, Weber says he has “seen the machinations of fear and greed firsthand,” particularly the presence of aggressive plaintiff attorneys that fail to inform HOA members that defect lawsuits can both decrease their home values for the multi-year period the litigation will last and make it extremely difficult (if not impossible) to sell.
A New Future
It’s clear that there needs to be a change made to the Washington State Condominium Act, and one proposed augmentation would be to insurance. “A warranty insurance program similar to that found in British Columbia would allow the ‘weeding out’ of non-meritorious claims – outside of the courtroom,” saving both time and resources for all parties involved.
“Changes to the Washington State Condominium Act are sorely needed to incentivize developers to build more affordable condominiums,” Weber adds. “As long as the economic opportunity for developing condos fails to offset the risk of ‘automatic’ litigation and non-meritorious claims, we will continue to see a diminution of this much needed housing stock.”